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Tasmanian press conference on RET, Tasmanian economy

Christine Milne 27 Aug 2014

Senator Christine Milne press conference
Launceston, Tasmania

1.00pm, 20 August 2014

Comments about Tasmanian issues

Tasmanian economy

In terms of the Tasmanian economy, we’ve just had shocking figures come out for the long-term unemployment statistics. The worst possible thing that the Abbott Government is doing is attacking the future and attacking Tasmania's competitive advantage. The decision to abandon the carbon price is a mega blow to the Tasmanian economy because it means that Hydro Tasmania will have a massive drop in its profits from over $200 million to a projected profit of around 20 million. That means that not only does the Hydro put people off, but the State Government will not be able to employ teachers, police and nurses because it will not have the dividend from the Hydro. That is down to Liberal senators like Senator Colbeck, Senator Abetz, Senator Bushby. They are responsible for the fact that Tasmania has taken this big hit, and now they are all running for cover and hiding all over the place on the renewable energy target because that will be the next big blow to Tasmania if it is significantly reduced or changed. All very well for them to be saying we want to keep the renewable energy target. What they are not saying is that they want to keep the renewable energy target at 41,000 gigawatt hours. They are not saying that they will not accept the changes. Already, the attack on the renewable energy target has led to so much uncertainty that businesses around Australia are not investing in renewable energy. We had news just yesterday of a major solar thermal plant destined for Mildura has been cancelled because of uncertainty around the renewable energy target. In the Tasmanian context, Hydro Tasmania has lobbied very hard to keep the renewable energy target because not only does it mean their future projects are in jeopardy, but their existing projects. They are seriously concerned about it and you add to that Pacific Hydro around the country, all of the windfarm companies, people are really concerned about this decision of the Abbott government to prop up coal-fired power and give billions back to the coal-fired generators at the cost of jobs and investment in the renewable sector.  This will hit home in Tasmania harder than just about anywhere else.

Tarkine mines

Speaking of the new future, the decision by Venture Minerals to put its Riley Creek mine on hold is just more of the same saga of Tasmania being conned yet again by pretty much penny dreadful mining companies. We had Shree Minerals promising the world and what have we ended up with? a major scar in the Tarkine. Where is the guarantee that Shree Minerals actually put up the money for restoration of the environment now that it has made such a mess. And it is no use saying we have just put it on hold, on hold indefinitely, what does that mean for the Tasmanian community? That we are left with a mess? This has always been the case with mining in Tasmania. Now with Venture, who in their right mind would think that an iron ore mine in Tasmania could be competitive when you compare it with the Pilbara, with proximity to the market, with a economies of scale. The Tasmanian government, the Labor Party federally and in Tasmania, were conned and the Liberals are just as bad. There is no due diligence on these companies or on what they are promising in jobs or returns. The fact that Tasmania gave a royalty holiday to Shree and goodness only knows what promises they made to Venture just show that these projects are not viable.

Tasmanian brand

Now is the time to say, let us look at brand Tasmania. Where is the future in this state? The future in this state is protecting the environment and using our high quality environment brand for investment in education, in industries of the future, things like major data centres that are big energy users that want renewable energy, new renewable energy investments, and our science community, our Antarctic proximity, food and wine. All of these things are competitive advantages for our state. We should be getting behind clean, green and clever Tasmania and stopping this absolute con job that goes on with promises from resource extractive industries that never come to pass.

In a final comment on the future for Tasmania, years ago when I was in the Tasmanian Parliament I  talked about the importance of investing in education and in the university, in particular overseas students, and the benefits that would bring to Tasmania in terms of the investment here and in long-term relationships. The same goes for our tourism industry, we have to be outward looking.

Senator Lambie remarks

The remarks by Clive Palmer and Jackie Lambie are an absolute disgrace. What is very clear is that Clive Palmer's business interests are what got him into politics in the first place. It was the fight with Campbell Newman over Campbell Newman's failure to give him preferred status for his railway and mine in Queensland that led to the formation of the Palmer United Party. Now, it is his business deals going wrong and accusations made against him that is leading him to speak out in a way that demeans the whole of Australia's Parliament and jeopardises the relationships between people are building in various industries around the country with the Chinese. Jacqui Lambie’s ridiculous comments -  first of all she wants everyone in National Service, then she wants missiles pointed at China. How on earth are we going to build a relationship, particularly with the Antarctic division and proximity to Antarctica with the Chinese when you have got a Tasmanian senator speaking out in that way. I have been lobbying for a long time for the Chinese to make Hobart its Antarctic base. it would be a fantastic thing for Tasmania. It would support our research, it would support the University, and would support a lot of ongoing maintenance and jobs in servicing and supplying the ships and crews. The key to that relationship is research, and that is why the Abbott Government cutting back our universities is such a disaster. But throwing to Eric Abetz cutting back funding and Jacqui Lambie condemning and abusing the Chinese, why would the Chinese ever make Hobart their Antarctic base? There are serious consequences for cutting back research and for being intolerant and xenophobic and Tasmania shouldn’t tolerate it.

Questions re Tasmania

Question: what will the impact of the comments be?

Answer: If Tasmania is going to be part of the subsequent trips from the G20 it may well be that we end up with visits here from high-level Chinese officials. I was hoping that this would be the opportunity for China to announce that Tasmania might be their Antarctic supply base. I would love to think that is the case. I would urge Jacqui Lambie to think again, because what she is jeopardising is not only our research, but jobs and investment and long-term good relationships for Tasmania and Australia.

Question: As a fellow Tasmanian Senator what is your advice for Jacqui Lambie?

Answer: I think Jacqui Lambie can speak for herself, but she needs to think pretty clearly when she talks about wanting to be here for the future of Tasmania. It does Tasmania no good whatsoever to be represented in the way she is currently speaking about the Chinese Government. She fails to recognise that the competitive advantage for Tasmania is in renewable energy. I think that perhaps Sen Lambie should spend more time actually focusing on the future, rather than just supporting Clive’s outbursts.

Question: With regard to the RET does the Senate get a say if there is an adjustment or if it is knocked off entirely

Answer:  yes the Senate will have to vote on the renewable energy target. I am calling on all the Tasmanian politicians who now say they are concerned, because they are fully aware of the impact that both changing or abolishing the RET and abandoning the carbon price are having on Tasmania, they are all trying to weasel around saying how worried they are, how concerned they are. Well, what we want from them is a commitment to cross the floor. Will Eric Abetz vote with the Greens against Tony Abbott as he attacks the RET? That is the question.

Question: the uncertainty around the RET put the whole Musselroe windfarm into question about six or seven years ago, is that where we are heading for now with commercial projects stalling?

Answer:  Absolutely. We are seeing projects stall across the country. There is something like 18,000 people employed around Australia in the solar industry now. You add to that the billions of dollars that have already been invested in renewable energy and the $18 billion worth of projects in the pipeline around Australia that are all stalled. As the industry says to me all the time, that the Abbott government has already struck a major blow to renewable energy by creating a climate of uncertainty. Uncertainty is what they cannot stand. It is no use just saying that you are going to protect the RET until 2016 because bankers need a much longer term horizon and certainty. So already, Tony Abbott's putting the RET in jeopardy, has led to major investment on the sidelines and loss of jobs. If he actually proceeds with it though it is the projects that are already on the ground that will fold as well. It is not only lost opportunity and potential investment and jobs in the pipeline its existing projects that will really struggle. It is no use people saying, “Oh, it is a level playing field, why would we be supporting renewable energy when we have got coal?” What the Abbott government has done is just give a massive subsidy to coal by removing carbon pricing because it saying that the coal industry does not have to pay for the impacts of global warming and the health impacts on local communities around coal-fired plants. It is giving them a major subsidy and that is wrong.

Question: So what does the RET need to be in your opinion?

Answer:  the renewable energy target needs to stay as it is and be increased. The Greens have a policy of 100 percent renewable energy as soon as we can possibly get there. Bu we have a target of 90 percent renewable energy by 2030. The reason it is 90 percent is that the last 10 percent is the most expensive to achieve.  But as was shown with the renewable energy target of 20 percent by 2020, once you set an ambitious target the industry will often get there faster than you thought it would. For example we set a 2020 target of 20 percent and renewable energy has now achieved about 27 percent. Instead of saying, “oh that is dreadful, we should pull back on renewable energy”,  we should be saying “Fantastic! You’ve done so much better let us set a more ambitious target out to 2030 so we can drive even faster transition”. The whole point why we are doing it is because it is cleaner, it is healthier, it is cheaper to consumers and it helps save the climate. What is not to love about renewable energy?

Question: what about the major industries in Tasmania who buy quite a lot of our electricity. Are you concerned that say Rio Tinto at Bell Bay could cut jobs or go out of business?

Answer: I think we need to be looking at the fact that in the long term Tasmania is going to have to transition. We have a lot of old plant in Tasmania and a range of other industries and that is why I am keen to encourage industries like the big data industries to Tasmania. They are big users of energy and the great thing about them is that they need to locate in areas with temperate climate and they need large amounts of energy and they want renewable energy for their brand. That’s perfect for Tasmania. We should be out there actually trying to secure these data centres as quickly as we possibly can. I went to one in Victoria recently and they are powering it with hundreds and hundreds of solar panels on the roof. But Tasmania could offer so much more than they are able to achieve in Melbourne. That is what I would like us to start thinking about we’ve got large energy intensive industries in Tasmania which will stay for as long as they can, but ultimately we have to transition to a new generation of industries and data centres are perfect for us


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